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Displaying items by tag: Saint Teresa of Avila

Letter to the Order on the Occasion of the Fourth Centenary of the Canonization of St. Teresa of Jesus

Dear brothers and sisters, I believe we are living through a moment of great grace in our Order. The news that Titus Brandsma will be canonized very soon has moved hearts and minds in every Carmelite community. The next few weeks will be filled with the life and thoughts of this very saintly man. As I write this letter, I am conscious of a part of the life and thinking of Titus Brandsma that enriches the Carmelite Family in a very notable way, namely, his great interest in the life, experience, and writings of St. Teresa of Jesus.

On the 12th of March of this year, the Church will celebrate the fourth centenary of the canonization of Teresa of Avila, who was canonized on the same day as Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Philip Neri and Isidore the Farmer. On that day, on the initiative of the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, there will a celebration of the five saints in the church of the Gesù in Rome. The new Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites, Fr. Miguel Márquez Calle, O.C.D., and myself have been invited to take part and to concelebrate with Pope Francis, as representatives of the Carmelite Family. Other members of our General Council will also participate.

This happy event is a very good occasion for building relationships with the Society of Jesus, whom I thank for their invitation, and it is also an occasion within the Carmelite Family itself, to reflect on the gift of our saints. Here, in this letter, through the eyes of Titus Brandsma, I would like to reflect on the gift of Teresa of Jesus to our Order and to the whole Church. Titus Brandsma shared some of the ways we have today of thinking about the Carmelite Family. He was aware of how the Carmelite charism is given to many people in the Church. In writing about Bl. John Soreth, he recognized the great work that Soreth had done by opening up to women the gifts of Carmel that only men had enjoyed up to then.[1] It is in this same spirit that he recognizes the great gift of Teresa to our Order because of the way that she helps people to a fuller appreciation of the Carmelite charism by helping people to come to a knowledge of the mystery of God in their lives.

Titus made no secret of his regard for Teresa of Jesus. His mother’s name was Teresa (Titjsie). Each year on the feast of Teresa of Jesus, Titus would write a special note to his mother for her feast day. Throughout his life, he prayed with Teresa’s Bookmark, “Let nothing disturb thee”. He began the translation of her works into Dutch with the help of other Carmelites, but did not complete the work, which was a source of great regret to him. Likewise, the biography that he was writing was on his mind right up to the end, so strong was his desire to make this saint known among the Dutch. When commenting on the translation with his great friend and mentor Hubertus Driessen, they surmised how much the translation of the works of Teresa, that they had published at that time, had “given again to the name of Carmel in Holland a good reputation as an Order of prayer and mysticism”[2].

There are two lectures of Titus Brandsma that might help us in a particular way to see the link between him and Teresa of Jesus. In the lecture that he delivered to the University of Nijmegen, under the title Godsbegrip (The Idea of God)[3] we find that the idea of God that most appeals to him is the idea of God who enters the life of every human being and will enter more and more into the person who by their way of living and believing make space for him to enter. In his words:

What I thus defend and consider to be indispensable for our time is the contemplation of all being in its dependence on God and its emergence from God whose work we have to see in everything and whose being we have to discern in everything. We also have to recognise and venerate God in all things, and first of all in ourselves. God is revealed to us in the depths of all things and in our own depths. God wishes to be seen and to be known. Nowhere is God to be known better than in the very depth of our being. If the thought about God’s indwelling, about the total dependence of all human nature on God, on God’s guidance and revelation was alive in everything, we would act quite differently and would adjust our behaviour to be in tune with God’s revelation.[4]

As he pronounced these words, it is possible that Titus was thinking about Teresa, from whom he learned about the union of the soul with God and the all-pervading nature of God in the life of the human person. Among the series of ten lectures that Titus Brandsma gave in his tour of the United States of America in 1935, one was dedicated entirely to Teresa of Jesus. In this lecture, in line with his understanding of the idea of God, he showed, relying mostly on the Interior Castle, how Teresa supported the idea of God entering more and more into the lives of people who know about God, accept God, and seek to know his love more and more. In the words of Titus:

St. Teresa paints the mystical life as something which develops in the soul, according to the soul’s natural ability, as the ultimate realisation of human powers. There have been implanted by God in human nature and will be realised when the soul is aware of its possibility to reach that highest degree of perfection and therefore gives up itself wholly into the hands of the Lord who alone is able to carry it to the highest of elevations. For all this, nothing else is asked of the soul than that it accomplish God’s wishes and desires, put its trust in Him, and in Him only finds its happiness. God likes to have an ordered love and he himself will order that love in the soul.[5]

Titus admired Teresa for the wonder of her experience and doctrine. He also admired her for her work of reform, believing that her reform is of benefit not only to the Discalced Carmelites but to the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance as well. In language that is very much part of the Discalced tradition Titus says:

Certainly, Mary stands foremost in the veneration of her brothers and sisters, but they don’t deem it is derogating from that beloved mother, when they honour the most graced of her children as another mother, a mother who gave them not existence, it is true, but who regenerated them to a new life.[6]

We now find ourselves is times and circumstances that challenge us to be aware of the true nature of our calling, and to respond to that calling with lives that give authentic witness to that calling. We are to live in a way that is faithful to what we say about ourselves, people called to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ, as contemplative people whose lives are shaped by prayer, fraternity, and service, and who follow in their lives the examples of Mary and Elijah. Titus saw in Teresa a saint who decided to return to the original inspiration of our Order, and to purify the life of the Order of all the accretions it had accrued over the centuries which served to distance its members from their original calling.

In this graced moment, as we rejoice in the prospect of Titus Brandsma being declared a saint, and honour Teresa of Jesus’ canonization, it cannot escape us that we have every reason to give thanks to God, to renew our lives, and to have confidence in the life we have chosen, as God has chosen it for us. With joy and commitment, we will share that life and wisdom with the Church as a whole and with each of our local Churches. For that reason, in the short time available, I encourage our communities throughout the world to celebrate the fourth centenary of the canonization of St. Teresa of Jesus, and to do so, where possible, in conjunction with members of the Discalced Carmelite Family.

May the remembrance and honour we give to St. Teresa of Jesus and our new saint to be Titus Brandsma, strengthen in each one of us our desire to see the face of the living God and do his will in all things.

Míceál O’Neill, O. Carm.

Prior General

5th March 2022

Download the Letter to the Order  pdf here (220 KB)

[1]  T. Brandsma, A New Dawn, The Carmelite Nuns, Bl. John Soreth, in Carmelite Mysticism Historical Sketches, Darien, Illinois: The Carmelite Press, 1986, 36-43.

[2]  A. Staring, Fr. Titus Brandsma and St. Teresa of Avila, in Essays on Titus Brandsma, Rome: Carmel in the World Paperback, 1985. p. 207

[3]  T. Brandsma, Mysticism in Action, Collected Works. Edd. Joseph Chalmers and Elizabeth Hense, Rome: Edizioni Carmelitane, 2021, 95-124.

[4]  T. Brandsma, The Idea of God, in Mysticism in Action, Collected Works. Edd. Joseph Chalmers and Elizabeth Hense, Rome: Edizioni Carmelitane, 2021, p. 121.

[5]  T. Brandsma, St. Teresa. The Growth of the Mystical Life, in Carmelite Mysticism Historical Sketches, Darien, Illinois: The Carmelite Press, 1986, p.46.

[6]  Quoted in A. Staring, Fr. Titus Brandsma and St. Teresa of Avila, in Essays on Titus Brandsma, Rome: Carmel in the World Paperback, 1985. p. 208.

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Wednesday, 09 March 2022 11:26

The Memorable Canonization of 1622

There has never been a canonization celebration at the Vatican to match the one held on March 12, 1622! Four hundred years ago, Pope Gregory XV solemnly recognized the holiness of three men and one woman, a Carmelite nun, Teresa of Avila. She was honored along with Ignatius of Loyola, Isidore of Madrid (also known as Isidore the Farmer), Francis Xavier, and Philip Neri.

One must also be impressed with the fact that each of these new saints would continue to be major figures in the Church down to our current time. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. Francis Xavier, a great friend of Ignatius, became the great missionary to the people of Japan, India, and the Malay Archipelago. Philip Neri founded the Congregation of the Oratory with a spirituality that has been called "a spirituality of everyday life."

St. Teresa’s writings are recognized as masterpieces of 16th century Spanish literature and spirituality. Her reflections on the process for one to progress toward God through prayer and contemplation are considered benchmarks in the history of Christian mysticism. In 1970 she became the first female declared a “Doctor of the Church.”

Both the Prior General of the Carmelites, Fr. Míceál O’Neill, and the Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites, Fr. Miguel Márquez Calle, will join Pope Francis in marking the 400th anniversary of these canonizations with a Mass at the Jesuit's Roman Church of the Gesù on Saturday, March 12. Fr. Míceál is also publishing a letter to the Order to commemorate the occasion.

The ceremony in four hundred years ago continues to fascinate scholars because of the innovations in the canonization process that it introduced. Art historians admire it for the use of art to support the missionary expansion of the Catholic Church.

The 1622 ceremony was originally planned as the canonization of the patron saint of Spain's new capital, Madrid, St. Isidore. The King of Spain, Philip IV, paid for the canonization "teatro" -- a structure erected in St. Peter's Basilica decorated with scenes from the life of St. Isidore and illustrations of miracles attributed to his intercession. A banner for each of the others being canonized was to be hanging in the transcept. "So the others were, technically, piggy-backed onto this ceremony," according to Simon Ditchfield, a professor of history at the University of York in England. He has written extensively on the 1622 ceremony.

Previous popes had attempted to regulate the recognition of saints. But the process was slow with many holy men and women being proclaimed and venerated simply as a result of the devotion of the people, Ditchfield told CNS.

Following the Protestant Reformation there was a desire to bring formality and rigor to the Church's process for declaring saints. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V set up what would become the Congregation for Saints' Causes. In the following 30 years, only nine people were canonized and none of them at the same ceremony.

The 1622 saints, Ditchfield says, are the first saints to be beatified before being canonized, an intermediate step that is now standard.

The ceremony in 1622 also broke ground because of multiple people being canonized on the same day. This provided more decorations in St. Peter's and five canonization bulls instead of the traditional one, and an unprecedentedly large body of documentation.  Pamela M. Jones, a professor emerita of art history at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, told CNS.

The bulls, or decrees of canonization, and the banners and other art used to decorate St. Peter's, explained Pamela Jones, a professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts "underscored their distinctive contributions and similar virtues. The saints' celebrations also show that they were perceived useful to the Roman Catholic Church as defenders of the faith against 'heretics' and 'infidels' and as disseminators of the Catholic faith in a turbulent era of world expansion."

In some ways, the established process for creating saints also underscored the authority of the pope as established by the Council of Trent. Jones wrote in "A Companion to Early Modern Rome, 1492-1692," a book she co-edited with Ditchfield and Barbara Wisch that "Because saints' cults were universal, the pope, whose jurisdiction was universal, had the exclusive right to canonize," Jones wrote. After the canonization rite in 1622, Rome was the site of processions, fireworks, concerts, and plays. Similar events took place around the world: in Madrid to celebrate St. Isidore's canonization, but even further afield to honor the new religious-order saints across Europe, in Asia and in the Americas.


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Wednesday, 09 March 2022 10:17

Saint Teresa of Ávila Doctor of the Church

Teresa of Ávila- Doctor of the Church[1]

On September 27, 1970, Pope Paul VI solemnly proclaimed Teresa of Ávila the first female Doctor of the Church. The title Doctor of the Church (Doctor Ecclesiae) is given by the pope for outstanding achievements in theology and the transmission of the faith. Doctors of the Church are considered witnesses to the doctrine of the Church by bringing the teachings of Jesus Christ to the people of their own and of later times in a special way.

According to Pope Benedict XIV [ed. The 1747-1749 edition of the document is considered the official version], a person should satisfy the following three conditions to be called a Doctor of the Church:

  1. Eminens doctina (excellent doctrine),
  2. Insignis vitae sanctitas (a high level of holiness),
  3. Summi Pontificis aut Concilii Generalis legitimate congregate declaration (a declaration by the pope or by a legitimately assembled General Council).

As can be seen from the 1982 instructions of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints for awarding the title of Doctor of the Church, these criteria are still used today.

A new development began in 1970. With the official designations of Teresa of Ávila and Catherine of Siena as Doctors of the Church, women were attributed special importance for the first time. The objections and reservations against this were based primarily on 1 Cor 14:33f. (“As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches”) and 1 Tim 2:12 (“I permit no woman to teach”); they were removed by the Sacred Congregation of Rites after careful theological examination.

It should be noted that Doctor of the Church is not an “honorary title” (titolo onorifico) but rather the recognition of the doctrine of a saint as outstanding (eminens). Nor is it the “third stage” following a process of beatification and canonization, because what is decisive is that the doctrine of the saint … has provided answers to specific needs of the times and continues to exert a beneficial influence in the universal Church today.

[Teresa’s] teaching has had effectiveness and authority beyond the Catholic Church, not only in the life of the faithful, but also for spiritual theology. This is manifested in her writings, in which she described her story of salvation with God, the foundations of a spiritual life, as well as the necessity and degrees of prayer.

Teresa recognized Christ as the center of her spiritual doctrine, because Christ reveals the Father, unites people to him, and associates people with himself. According to the pope, the foundation of Teresa’s doctrine are Christian prayer and the Church, through which the Kingdom of God is realized.

The decisive factor was her personality, which was characterized by humility, simplicity and charisma, vitality and an intensive spiritual life. Paul VI called her a teacher of spiritual life, a contemplative like no other, and tirelessly active. She was a great, unique and yet very human and attractive personality.

The source and goal of Teresa’s doctrine is prayer. She knew all secrets of prayer from her own experience. In her, an experience which she both endured and enjoyed became reality. The gift of proclaiming these secrets made her one of the greatest teachers of inner life.

Editor’s note:  From Pope Boniface VIII in 1295, the title Doctor of the Church has been bestowed on 37 saints—33 men and 4 women. From the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), 7 saints have been so honored—3 men and 4 women.

 [1] Summary of an article by Dorothee Backwinkel and Michael Plattig, O. Carm. Theresa of Avila—50 Years a Doctor of the Church. Carmelus 67 (2020) fasc. 1, 207-228.


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Wednesday, 09 March 2022 09:06

Papal Bull of 1622 Honors Teresa of Avila

On the occasion of the 400th Anniversary of Canonization of Teresa of Avila we present this interesting document from the General Archives of the Carmelite Order.

Forty years after her death, Teresa of Avila was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622. On the same day, three other great saints of the post-Tridentine reformist period rose to the honors of the altars: Ignazio di Loyola, Francesco Saverio and Filippo Neri.

Like the beatification, which took place on April 24, 1614, with Pope Paul V, the canonization also had a wide resonance throughout the Order with the multiplication of editions and comments on her writings as well as with the dedication of new churches and altars.

The enthusiasm among the nuns was such that on May 18, 1622, two months after the great event, Pope Gregory XV granted the possibility of acquiring the plenary indulgence to those who would visit the churches of the Carmelite monasteries on the anniversary day of the canonization (see photo).

Beyond the content, the bull attests to the strong bond between the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance and Mother Saint Teresa.

Photo courtesy of the General Archives of the Carmelite Order


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